Iron has become my obsession lately as I have been experiencing my symptoms which are associated with an inefficient level. It’s a ‘trace’ mineral which basically means the human body needs only a small amount compared to other vitamin and minerals. Iron from our food need only be around a few milligrams to 18mg a day but strange enough it is one of the most common nutritional deficiencies in the USA.
According to the RDA, females are required around 18mg a day while men only 8mg (all genders: 19-50 yr olds). Women do need varying amounts according to the schedule of one’s menstrual cycle though. Previously up until now I have never counted my iron intake because most Americans get enough without even thinking otherwise, or so I thought. Additionally I always though all anemia’s were caused by poor diets instead of thinking of ones’ life factors that could upturn a balance. (Yes, sadly I thought most iron anemia was in ‘3rd world countries’ like Africa.)
As I am continuously learning more of iron deficiency I am acquiring the knowledge to improve upon my own endurance and aerobic training. Iron forms those active compounds that transport oxygen (depending on the type to the lungs, cells, tissues, and muscles). This is why muscles begin to tire before even exercising and one might get dizzy while exercising with low levels. Iron means energy production and without it you aren’t going anywhere.
Now before some of you non-vegans out there go all crazy on me about changing my diet please keep reading because you might be surprised how we actually lose iron as an athlete. While iron is found in animal flesh it is not the only option. In fact, lentils contain more iron than a steak and some fish contains more than lentils. So it really does depend on your lifestyle and how one wants to ‘iron-up’. I’m not going to lie though just because I’m vegan and believe in animal rights. It is a fact animal flesh is considered ‘heme’ and those have better absorption than plant iron called ‘non-heme’. Thankfully there is hope fellow vegans, do not worry, since taking Vitamin C along with non-heme iron can enhance one’s consumption. I’ve also found a few resources stating high consumption of calcium, manganese, and zinc can also reduce iron absorption creating a deficiency. Basically that means your iron enriched cereal in the morning with milk isn’t going to do much, sorry… It’s better to be dry and followed with some fresh Vitamin C powerhouse strawberries.
It wasn’t until recently did I mention my issues with iron; when did I notice my iron levels being low? It was around 2-3 months ago I noticed my runs were becoming increasingly more difficult to endure and required a nap before and afterwards. (not common) In total these naps grew to be around an hour daily which really became time-consuming and impossible with my work schedule. During my runs I would also feel sluggish and heavy in the legs, even when I took a few days off to rest. On dog walks I would get dizzy and feel nauseous daily. My energy levels were low and my performance times were much slower but I attributed the change to the winter blues and cooler temperatures. Then about 1 month ago it really hit me while on a walk with the pup and DH one night and the DH mentioned how strange it was my hands/feet were constantly cold even though the temperatures were increasing. I’m normally a warm bodied person. These are all signs of iron deficiency. To add the cherry on top females with regular menstrual cycles (I know, T.M.I) have a higher risk than not for anemia due to blood loss once a month. (Hopefully that wasn’t too painful to read.)
When I first began my research I feared I had some deadly disease (everyone thinks this right?) and I would either die or be told by a doctor that I could live only if I never exercised again. Yep, totally rational person right here. But as I researched more of iron levels and athletes I become slightly more rational and found likewise to be true. One that boosts ones’ routine (which I had been doing thanks to no snow), ones iron levels can drastically drop without notice. Thankfully as the athletes’ body gets acclimated to the higher level of exercise, the iron levels will balance themselves out without supplementation. It does take a few months of consistent levels of working out for them to hit equilibrium. So that is where I am right now and I’m still taking in higher amounts of DV% iron through food and not medicine. I’ll write in another article of what is working for me.
*Note: I have not obtained a medical degree and neither do I mention I do in this blog. This blog contains my personal findings and experience only. Much of my research came from medical books cross referenced with medical journals and articles on the internet.
Anyone else out there with low iron or dealt with it? I’d love to hear your story and experience!